The more I read the prophets, the more I’m intrigued by the prophets. The more I think I understand what’s going on, the more I think I know of God. And the more I consider the dynamic of Israel’s judgment and promised restoration, the more I see the gospel. And the more I’m stirred with awe and wonder; praise and worship.
Case in point, Jeremiah’s prophetic word to Israel and Judah and the relationship between the back, the face, and the heart.
This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger–their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction.
(Jeremiah 32:31-33 ESV)
God’s wrath was but the result. The evil of the children of Israel was the problem. But the root cause for it all had to do with the back and the face.
Though God had called them; though He had owned them as His own special people; though He had blessed them and brought them into the land promised; though He patiently waited on their whining, endured their rebellion, and begged them to return to Him; yet, they gave Him their back and not their face.
They turned away. They refused to look, as it were, into God’s face. They put their fingers in their ears, refusing to hear God’s voice through the prophets. They tightly shut their eyes unwilling to look into His word. Blindfolded themselves even as they hypocritically brought sacrifices to the altar. They broke all the mirrors not wanting to see themselves as they really were. With arms crossed, they spun on their heels and gave God their back. Oh, how He longed for their face.
How God desired that they would gaze into the fullness of all which the sacrifices wanted to speak of–that a holy God had made provision to live in the midst of an unholy people. How He wanted them to hear the word, that in obedience there would be blessing, that in faithfulness there would be fullness. How He desired that they would see themselves not just as they really were, but as all that God wanted them to be, a bride adorned, and adored, by a loving suitor. Instead, though He longed for their face to be turned toward heaven, they instead gave Him their back and focused their attention and desires on the things of the world.
So how would He get their face and not their back? How would He turn them around? Jeremiah reminds me this morning that the pivot point between the back and the face is the heart.
I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
(Jeremiah 32:39-41 ESV)
God, for His names sake, would capture their face through their heart. He would turn them toward Himself by infusing within them the knowledge of Himself. In order to turn their backs and receive their face God would invade their hearts.
He would give them a new heart, a heart that would respond with appropriate awe, reverence, and holy fear to the revelation of the God who sits enthroned over the universe yet seeks to interact with those He created to inhabit the earth. They would know Him, they would fear Him, and they would give Him, willingly and longingly, their face and not their back.
Isn’t that the work of the gospel? Old, idolatrous, selfish hearts made new; wired to thirst and hunger for the things of eternity and the God of heaven? The inner man regenerated so that we long to look into the word of God, and want to hear the voice of God, that we might feebly strive to walk in the ways of God. Intensely looking, though dimly as in a mirror, into what is revealed about us so that we, by faith, might prevail upon Him to continue to transform us.
Having been beckoned to come freely and enter into the holy of holies, we reverently approach, knowing that His unapproachable light will expose the darkness still hanging on through the old nature. And seeing our stain as we abide with our God, face to face, we repent, confess, and know that, through the blood of Jesus and the finished work of the cross, He is ready, willing, and justly able to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Our faces set toward Him because we believe, that through the power of the Spirit, He desires with great desire to continue to make ready for His Son a bride “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
It’s the heart work that compels us to give Him our face and not our back.
A work solely because of His grace. A work eternally for His glory.